NBC Miami reporter fired for edited Zimmerman tape

WTVJ reporter Jeff Burnside was fired Friday after being involved in editing a tape of George Zimmerman’s 911 call before he shot Trayvon Martin. Burnside, who has been with the NBC owned and operated Miami station for 13 years, still has a bio page on its website.

“As anybody in the news business knows, something that seems very clear is often very, very complicated,” Burnside said by phone this evening. “I have nothing but great things to say about the NBC team.”

The WTVJ video, though edited similarly, was not the one that aired on NBC’s “Today” show, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The video that aired on the “Today” show actually came from NBC’s Southeast headquarters, also based in south Florida.

The “Today” show video removed context from Zimmerman’s conversation with a 911 operator. The original call transcript said:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.
Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?
Zimmerman: He looks black.

The edit changed Zimmerman’s words to: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.”

NBC fired a producer for the “Today” show video on April 5 and has apologized for it, but declined to say how the edit occurred; Erik Wemple called the mea culpa “skimpy” and David Carr said the edit was a “remarkable lapse in editorial process that inflamed a highly emotional issue, and it created suspicion that journalists and media outlets were picking sides.” He wondered why NBC didn’t issue an on-air correction. Jim Treacher posts a screenshot of what he says is a deleted tweet by WTVJ reporter Christina Hernandez claiming the 911 call came to the station in the edited form. But two sources told us the station and NBC’s Southeast headquarters received the unedited tape directly from the Sanford police.

A phone call to WTVJ’s newsdesk was immediately patched through to a spokesman for the NBC-owned stations who said only, “As a result of our investigation an employee involved in editing the tape is no longer at the station.”

It is unclear whether anyone else at WTVJ has been disciplined in the matter.

Burnside tweeted photos from a Sanford, Fla., rally on March 26, and also mentioned he’d be on the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts that day. Martin, 17, was killed in central Florida, but he lived in Miami and attended high school there.

Burnside’s station bio says he won three awards in 2007 for his investigative reporting: an Investigative Reporters and Editors Certificate, the National Press Club Award, and the Clarion Award.

Correction: This post originally stated that the WTVJ edited video aired on the “Today” show. It did not. The edited video that aired on “Today” came from NBC’s Southeastern headquarters.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Harrington/1610935161 Michael Harrington

     Jeff may indeed be a sacrificial goat for NBC, but the fact remains, the media edited the tape for sensationalism’s sake. Having worked in the media in the past, I have witnessed first hand stories and facts altered for money’s sake.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

     Larry, I just can’t answer that question. I wish I could. And as Jeff Burnside said above, “…something that seems very clear is often very, very complicated.” –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Larry Sluder

    I don’t want to seem dense but, did he physically edit the Dispatcher’s question or not.  If he did, he deserves to be fired if not, fire the guy who did it.  Seems simple to me.

  • Anonymous

     Jeff has led South Florida environmental news coverage for years. Whatever happened regarding the tape edit, his intelligence, perseverance and experience provide the kind of insight into news events that is needed to help the public find its way through confusing times. I look forward to hearing from Jeff in his future position.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Broadcast reporters don’t usually edit their own tapes in markets the size of Miami, they usually write scripts that get edited by someone else (a photojournalist or videotape editor). Often those scripts are reviewed by a supervisor, but different stations handle script approval differently, and require different degrees of specificity in their scripts. So, we don’t know exactly what happened here. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Larry Sluder

    I don’t know about complicated seems pretty simple to me. Did he EDIT the tape or not?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Sims/100000571912142 David Sims

    Scapegoat paid hush money?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/IJCWXWLGHDSLAXS377EA2ECXH4 Ginger

    We are assured Burnside has been fired.  There are uncorroborated allegations that another producer was fired, probably earlier.  Anybody know anything about that?

    Richard Aubrey

  • http://www.facebook.com/blucross Bobcatbob Ingram

     The excuses for lying to America seem like more lying to America.
     These actions are far more serious than they seem to realize.
      Fabricating a race baiting story hurts America, it might even cause killings of whites for ‘Justice’
     How would you feel then ?  You know, if a couple black kids threw gasoline on  a white kid and lit him up.
     How do You feel about that ?…O ya after they lit him up they were shouting “thats for Trayvon”
     I know its not just Your poor decision, everyone makes mistakes..but the rest of the Mass media was right there with you keeping the lil’boy next to the thug in Orange photos.
     You guys wanted to stir up trouble and I hope somebody sues.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AOZG2355M55XCAKZ2QSFTVLGHM Richard

    As has been noted before, mis-editing the first couple of sentences of a conversation, or the last few words, is understandable as a mechanical error.
    Excising a a sentence or two inside a conversation is harder to do accidentally.  And when combined with the absolutely predictable effect on The Narrative, the statistical way to bet is that it was done on purpose. If it could be demonstrated to be a mechanical error, the discipline should be for not reviewing the result of the editing process prior to sending it to be aired.
    Cutting it for brevity before putting it on one of the interminable morning shows doesn’t pass the laugh test.
    Even if the thing was completely inadvertent, it certainly was the wrong thing to be inadvertent, wasn’t it?  So far, only a low-ranking employee has been fired.  When NBC wired a truck to explode, GM made them pay a good chunk of money and that was when a high-ranking person was fired.
    Perhaps when Zimmerman gets a mammoth settlement–which would be absolutely justified–a higher ranking personage might feel the heat.
    I understand the late Richard Jewell only got half a million and nobody was fired.
    The best that could  be said for this is that, inadvertent as it was, it confirmed what a good many have said about the media.  Truly unfortunate.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AOZG2355M55XCAKZ2QSFTVLGHM Richard

    Is this in reference to Treacher?  The idea that you can dismiss a fact by slagging the medium by which it comes to your attention is pretty old-fashioned.  In addition, when the fact is corroborated, the process looks kind of lame.

  • http://www.WhoNeedsNewspapers.org Paul Steinle

    Thanks for adding a correction to this story. But I suggest you add an attribution to your correction so your sources can be crystal clear.

  • https://me.yahoo.com/a/Tga8UsUAlIiB3f9F3g__iEB_oSYhsW9vgs8wPn83#36df4 JAMES DOYL


  • https://me.yahoo.com/a/Tga8UsUAlIiB3f9F3g__iEB_oSYhsW9vgs8wPn83#36df4 JAMES DOYL


  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Robert & Tom, thank you for commenting. I’m very glad to see his colleagues weighing in. As Jeff told us — and as anyone who has worked in a broadcast newsroom knows — this is complicated. A tape travels through multiple people/places before making it to air. I hope at some point further details will emerge to paint a complete picture of what happened, but until then I really appreciate Jeff’s willingness to share what he can, and I trust people will consider what that says about him as a journalist and a person. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Robert & Tom, thank you for commenting. I’m very glad to see his colleagues weighing in. As Jeff told us — and as anyone who has worked in a broadcast newsroom knows — this is complicated. A tape travels through multiple people/places before making it to air. I hope at some point further details will emerge to paint a complete picture of what happened, but until then I really appreciate Jeff’s willingness to share what he can, and I trust people will consider what that says about him as a journalist and a person. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Anonymous

    this ‘explanation’ is about as clear as mud. 

  • Tom Henry

    I’d like to echo what Robert said. I don’t have any special insight into what happened, either, but will attest to Jeff being an outstanding, dedicated journalist. I’m proud to be associated with him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1784346692 Robert McClure

    I don’t have any knowledge of what happened with this edit. Obviously, it should have been made clear that the dispatcher asked about race. But I have to say that I have known Jeff Burnside for about a decade and have worked closely with him, and I can vouch for his professionalism, his integrity and his deeply felt sense of public service and of fairness. Obviously something was botched here, but I would not jump to the conclusion that Jeff was one at fault. Jeff has a a huge amount of talent, passion and courage, and I personally hope he is not lost to the news profession.

  • http://twitter.com/txantimedia Antimedia

    It’s laughable that “professional” “journalists” actually think we, the public, buy these stories.  We’re well aware that you lie like thieves and then print the correction where no one will see it.  Unfortunately for you, you can no longer get away with it due to  “amateur rumor-mill and rather hate-laden web site”s that expose your lies.  I know it must be frustrating for you, but that’s life on the internet, where your every word and deed is recorded for posterity and subject to scrutiny.

  • Beth Parke

    Revisiting the story at 7pm I am glad to see you have spoken with Mr. Burnside and have removed that link to the questionable web site that had been featured as your source on this story earlier today.  Thanks.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Hi, Beth. Thanks for writing and for holding us to high standards. We linked to the site because that’s where we saw the initial report, however we confirmed it independently before publishing. We’ve since spoken with Jeff Burnside, and have quoted him in the story too. Thanks again, Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Beth Parke

    I am disappointed that Poynter is linking to an amateur rumor-mill and rather hate-laden web site as its “source” for this story and that you did not persevere in reaching Jeff Burnside for confirmation and comment before putting out such a damaging headline.  What information  do you actually have to support the assertions you make here?  It seems to me there is a real element of scapegoating going on here and I expect better of Poynter than opportunism and piling on based solely on rumor and innuendo. Why would you profess to stand for journalistic standards, and the go ahead and do that?

  • http://www.BR-549.com Junior Samples

    Anybody actually believe that a reporter at an affiliate made this edit that caused all this trouble for NBC?
    When Dan Rather of CBS tried to smear President Bush with the fake paperwork from the Texas Air National Guard, did some lowly reporter in Austin get fired? When NBC was caught putting incendiaries in gas tanks to make it look like Chevy pick-ups were fire hazards, it was the head man who had to resign, wasn’t it? Feline nicknames!